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How often do we start with the question why?

Having recently read Simon Sinek’s brilliant book, Start with Why, it now places me at an interesting crossroads where in the coaching world the advice is not to ask the coachee any question that starts with ‘why?’ but when looking at an organisation, the first question I’m now asking is ‘why do they exist?’ An interesting juxtaposed position and something I’ve now been discussing with colleagues and friends.

In coaching, I personally try to avoid the ‘why’ question at all costs and through careful use of who, what, when, where and how, it is much easier to build a rapport, allowing the coachee to feel more comfortable in explaining their position. Using why is more likely to put the coachee on the back foot and will restrict their ability to get out of an old frame of mind. It could even be misconstrued as an interrogation question, making the coachee feel ill at ease and possibly in a position of feeling intimidated.

On the other hand, and following my reading of Sinek’s book, those who work in most organisations will always start by telling you what the organisation does, followed by how they do it. The how will more than likely be the part of the organisation that they work in e.g. operations, finance, marketing, sales, business development etc. Interestingly, not many staff will say why their organisation exists and linked to that, what the vision is for their organisation.

Sinek uses Apple as his exemplar model for a very successful company which starts by telling its story with why. “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently”. Apple then go on to explain the how (it’s embedded as the organisational culture too) and the what. In the latter question, Apple talks about making great computers.  

Apple doesn’t necessarily make the best in any of its products but consumers keep coming back for more and using the iPhone as an example, there were shop stampedes and great media attention when each of the iPhone upgrades have been released. Apple is there for succeeding because of why. They are consistently meeting their consumer obligations as a provider of good quality products which ‘challenge the status quo’.

I have now reflected on the question of why in my own business model, starting with why Coaching For Change exists. I am passionate about having the ability to assist organisations (of all sizes) to develop their people whether this be through training, coaching or mentoring. I and my colleagues really do get energised and enthused when we see the positive results of knowledge and experience transfer.  

Having the ability to know when and where to ask the question why can be really rewarding. In coaching, I am trying to avoid using the question but in organisational change, you must start with the question of why. Once we know the vision (the why) it is then much easier to establish the how and the what. The biggest challenge is taking the naysayers with you!